A single set of values

One of the things that stood out to me when I was reading Benedict Anderson’s  Imagined Communities was a point he made about how minority languages and customs must be suppressed in the name of national unity.[1] An interesting point, I thought, explaining some of the tensions we see around the world: China with Tibet, India with non-Hindus, the Rwanda genocide, and well, the list goes on.

I didn’t see the point as applying so well within the United States. But it does.

If there is a silver lining to the Brett Kavanaugh catastrophe, it is that it brings irreconcilable differences into sharp relief. I join the Left in astonishment that we now have at least two probable sex offenders (Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas) sitting on the highest court in the land.[2] But the right saw the late introduction of Christine Blasey Ford’s story as a last-minute ambush calculated to derail a Justice who would advance a social conservative, neoconservative, and neoliberal agenda.[3]

Whatever one thinks of the allegations against Kavanaugh, it is that right-wing agenda that the Left truly fears and, indeed, that I fear. The right seeks to impose this agenda by winning elections and seating Supreme Court justices.

The right is presently able to do this because it won the presidential election in 2016 against a Democratic Party nominee, Hillary Clinton, who was part of the party mainstream that had capitulated to, embraced, and endorsed a neoconservative and neoliberal agenda. This agenda has led to a loss of well-paying manufacturing jobs[4] and, in combination with social change especially since the 1960s, alienated many, especially older, especially male, whites.[5] These latter folks are especially motivated to support Donald Trump,[6] and many of them support him even when he appears to be an antithesis to their own values.[7]

But we should not forget that these Trump supporters also viewed his predecessor, Barack Obama, in apocalyptic terms, referring to him as a “socialist” and a “Muslim” when he was neither. To them, and this is key to understanding Trump’s support among evangelical Protestants, the Left is the dictatorial force, constraining their religious freedom and upending and preventing the development of a society that they see simply as largely being the way their god intended it.[8]

The Left is fond of the word diversity. Conservatives ask how ‘diversity’ applies to them. But in truth, each side seeks to impose its own values upon the other. And neither side is—I’m certainly not—willing to compromise enough to accommodate the other because the conflict is about foundational values that are beyond question for each side.

But we live in a country, the United States, that adopted a strong central government (overturning the Articles of Confederation) that imposes a single set of values on the entire population. It can’t work, and in truth, never has.

And here we’re up against another foundational value: We insist that this country must remain united under the Constitution that imposes that single set of values. In the name of national unity.

  1. [1]Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, rev. ed. (London: Verso, 2006).
  2. [2]Jennifer Haberkorn, “Senate narrowly approves Brett Kavanaugh to Supreme Court, cementing conservative majority,” Los Angeles Times, October 6, 2018, http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-kavanaugh-confirmed-20181006-story.html; David Smith, “Anita Hill and the Senate ‘sham trial’ that echoes down to Kavanaugh,” Guardian, September 23, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/law/2018/sep/22/brett-kavanaugh-christine-blasey-ford-anita-hill-clarence-thomas-senate-judiciary-committee; Benjamin Wittes, “I Know Brett Kavanaugh, but I Wouldn’t Confirm Him,” Atlantic, October 2, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/10/why-i-wouldnt-confirm-brett-kavanaugh/571936/
  3. [3]Benjamin Wittes, “I Know Brett Kavanaugh, but I Wouldn’t Confirm Him,” Atlantic, October 2, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/10/why-i-wouldnt-confirm-brett-kavanaugh/571936/
  4. [4]Scott Sernau, Worlds Apart: Social Inequalities in a Global Economy, 2nd ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge, 2006).
  5. [5]Julia Belluz, “Why the white middle class is dying faster, explained in 6 charts,” Vox, March 23, 2017, http://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/3/23/14988084/white-middle-class-dying-faster-explained-case-deaton; Anne Case and Angus Deaton, “Mortality and morbidity in the 21st century” [draft], Brookings Institute, March 23, 2017, https://www.brookings.edu/bpea-articles/mortality-and-morbidity-in-the-21st-century/; Jefferson Cowie, “The Great White Nope: Poor, Working Class, and Left Behind in America,” review of White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America, by Nancy Isenberg, Foreign Affairs, November/December, 2016, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/reviews/review-essay/2016-10-17/great-white-nope; Tara Parker-Pope, “Suicide Rates Rise Sharply in U.S.,” New York Times, May 2, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/03/health/suicide-rate-rises-sharply-in-us.html; Alana Semuels, “Is Economic Despair What’s Killing Middle-Aged White Americans?” CityLab, March 23, 2017, https://www.citylab.com/politics/2017/03/economic-despair-killing-middle-aged-white-americans/520554/; Noelle Sullivan, “Neoliberalism Is Killing Us: Economic Stress as a Driver of Global Depression and Suicide,” Truthout, April 2, 2017, http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/40064-neoliberalism-is-killing-us-economic-stress-as-a-driver-of-global-depression-and-suicide
  6. [6]Michael Barbaro, Ashley Parker, and Jonathan Martin, “Rank and File Republicans Tell Party Elites: We’re Sticking With Donald Trump,” New York Times, March 4, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/05/us/politics/donald-trump-republican-party.html; Philip Bump, “Donald Trump’s various rude and offensive comments haven’t hurt him at all,” Washington Post, November 27, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/11/27/donald-trumps-various-rude-and-offensive-comments-havent-hurt-him-at-all/; Kathleen Hennessey, “GOP strategist talks to Trump supporters and comes away believing he could win the nomination,” Los Angeles Times, August 25, 2015, http://www.latimes.com/nation/politics/la-na-trump-supporters-20150825-story.html; Jonna Ivin, “I Know Why Poor Whites Chant Trump, Trump, Trump,” Stir, April 1, 2016, http://www.stirjournal.com/2016/04/01/i-know-why-poor-whites-chant-trump-trump-trump/; Michael Kruse and Taylor Gee, “The 37 Fatal Gaffes That Didn’t Kill Donald Trump,” Politico, September 25, 2016, http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/09/trump-biggest-fatal-gaffes-mistakes-offensive-214289; Suzanne McGee, “The US economic system is unjust. Says who? Says billionaire Donald Trump,” Guardian, September 6, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/sep/06/donald-trump-us-economic-system-unjust; Susan McWilliams, “This Political Theorist Predicted the Rise of Trumpism. His Name Was Hunter S. Thompson,” review of Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, by Hunter S. Thompson, Nation, December 15, 2016, https://www.thenation.com/article/this-political-theorist-predicted-the-rise-of-trumpism-his-name-was-hunter-s-thompson/; Evan Osnos, “The Fearful and the Frustrated,” New Yorker, August 31, 2015, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/08/31/the-fearful-and-the-frustrated; Alex Pappas, “‘Nothing Disqualifies Trump’ — What A Focus Group Tells Us About His Supporters,” Daily Caller, August 24, 2015, http://dailycaller.com/2015/08/24/nothing-disqualifies-trump-what-a-focus-group-tells-us-about-his-supporters/; George Saunders, “Who Are All These Trump Supporters?” New Yorker, July 11 and 18, 2016, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/07/11/george-saunders-goes-to-trump-rallies; Gerald F. Seib, “Why Donald Trump Survives the Waves He Makes,” Wall Street Journal, November 23, 2015, http://www.wsj.com/articles/why-donald-trump-survives-the-waves-he-makes-1448298057; Waleed Shahid, “Why We Can’t Bridge the Gulf Between Donald Trump Supporters and the Rest of Us,” Bill Moyers, December 10, 2015, http://billmoyers.com/story/why-we-cant-bridge-the-gulf-between-donald-trump-supporters-and-the-rest-of-us/; David Sherfinski, “Donald Trump’s assurances, Hillary Clinton antipathy unify Republicans,” Washington Times, May 22, 2016, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/may/22/hillary-clinton-antipathy-unifies-republicans-behi/; Niall Stanage, “Can anything bring down Teflon Trump?” Hill, August 8, 2015, http://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/250639-can-anything-bring-down-teflon-trump; Jeff Stein, “Here are 9 times Donald Trump’s campaign should have imploded,” Vox, February 9, 2016, http://www.vox.com/2016/2/9/10952772/donald-trump-new-hampshire; Karen Tumulty, “Will Trump eventually cross a line — or do the lines no longer exist?” Washington Post, November 25, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/will-trump-eventually-cross-a-line–or-do-the-lines-no-longer-exist/2015/11/25/5a1c9f0a-9225-11e5-b5e4-279b4501e8a6_story.html; Karen Tumulty, Jenna Johnson, and Jose A. DelReal, “Trump has lit a fire. Can it be contained?” Washington Post, March 12, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-has-lit-a-fire-can-it-be-contained/2016/03/12/c3886c56-e876-11e5-a6f3-21ccdbc5f74e_story.html; Peter Van Buren, “What Ohio’s ‘Deplorables’ Really Want,” American Conservative, September 19, 2018, https://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/what-ohios-deplorables-really-want/; J. D. Vance, “Opioid of the Masses,” Atlantic, July 4, 2016, http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/07/opioid-of-the-masses/489911/; Bill Weir, “Bikers salute leader of their pack: Donald Trump,” CNN, August 6, 2018, https://www.cnn.com/2018/08/05/politics/sturgis-biker-rally-supports-trump/index.html
  7. [7]Bill Berkowitz, “Are Right-Wing Evangelicals True Christians or Just Another White Identity Cult?” Truthout, March 4, 2016, http://truth-out.org/buzzflash/commentary/are-evangelicals-true-christians-or-just-another-white-identity-cult; David Goldstein, “Evangelicals have qualms with Trump, but see nowhere else to turn,” McClatchy, June 10, 2016, http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/politics-government/election/article82901192.html?rh=1; Bethania Palma Markus, “Christian leader: Trump reveals that progressives were right about evangelicals all along,” Raw Story, March 1, 2016, http://www.rawstory.com/2016/03/christian-leader-trump-reveals-that-progressives-were-right-about-evangelicals-all-along/; Russell Moore, “Why this election makes me hate the word ‘evangelical,’” Washington Post, February 29, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2016/02/29/russell-moore-why-this-election-makes-me-hate-the-word-evangelical/; Napp Nazworth, “Conservative Evangelical Author Matt Lewis on Trump, Evangelicals and Stupid Republicans (Interview),” Christian Post, January 26, 2016, http://www.christianpost.com/news/conservative-evangelical-author-matt-lewis-donald-trump-evangelicals-stupid-republicans-155688/; Ray Nothstine, “Who Are the Evangelicals Supporting Donald Trump?” Christian Post, August 30, 2015, http://www.christianpost.com/news/who-are-the-evangelicals-supporting-donald-trump-143997/; Samuel Smith, “Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr., Johnnie Moore Criticize Pope Francis for Suggesting Donald Trump Not Christian,” Christian Post, February 19, 2016, http://www.christianpost.com/news/franklin-graham-jerry-falwell-jr-johnnie-moore-pope-francis-donald-trump-not-christian-jfk-wall-158171/
  8. [8]Bill Berkowitz, “Are Right-Wing Evangelicals True Christians or Just Another White Identity Cult?” Truthout, March 4, 2016, http://truth-out.org/buzzflash/commentary/are-evangelicals-true-christians-or-just-another-white-identity-cult; David Goldstein, “Evangelicals have qualms with Trump, but see nowhere else to turn,” McClatchy, June 10, 2016, http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/politics-government/election/article82901192.html?rh=1; Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot, 7th ed. (Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2001); Bethania Palma Markus, “Christian leader: Trump reveals that progressives were right about evangelicals all along,” Raw Story, March 1, 2016, http://www.rawstory.com/2016/03/christian-leader-trump-reveals-that-progressives-were-right-about-evangelicals-all-along/; Russell Moore, “Why this election makes me hate the word ‘evangelical,’” Washington Post, February 29, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2016/02/29/russell-moore-why-this-election-makes-me-hate-the-word-evangelical/; Napp Nazworth, “Conservative Evangelical Author Matt Lewis on Trump, Evangelicals and Stupid Republicans (Interview),” Christian Post, January 26, 2016, http://www.christianpost.com/news/conservative-evangelical-author-matt-lewis-donald-trump-evangelicals-stupid-republicans-155688/; Ray Nothstine, “Who Are the Evangelicals Supporting Donald Trump?” Christian Post, August 30, 2015, http://www.christianpost.com/news/who-are-the-evangelicals-supporting-donald-trump-143997/; Samuel Smith, “Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr., Johnnie Moore Criticize Pope Francis for Suggesting Donald Trump Not Christian,” Christian Post, February 19, 2016, http://www.christianpost.com/news/franklin-graham-jerry-falwell-jr-johnnie-moore-pope-francis-donald-trump-not-christian-jfk-wall-158171/.

Author: benfell

David Benfell holds a Ph.D. in Human Science from Saybrook University. He earned a M.A. in Speech Communication from CSU East Bay in 2009 and has studied at California Institute of Integral Studies. He is an anarchist, a vegetarian ecofeminist, a naturist, and a Taoist.

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